‘You will never make it … ‘it’ doesn’t exist for an artist.’ – Joyce DiDonato
I remember myself as a third year classical voice student completing the final semester of 2016. I was eager to finish off the year; the finish line was so close yet so far. I was focused. Even though I may have needed a break, my eyes were fixed on the destination.
Looking back, boy was I ignorant! I did get a break. But it came much earlier then expected (in the middle of semester) in a form that I least expected (severe cold and virus infection). A minor setback as one would imagine. But nonetheless, I was a singer without a voice, unable to even phonate. In retrospect, I now understand the importance of those three weeks, and would like to share very important lessons I learnt from this valuable experience.
Singers! Your instrument is your BODY.
As I’ve learnt of the fragility of my vocal chords, I was reminded once again how holistic singing is as an art form. Our voices can easily be affected by: our mood of the day, what we ate, the state of the tensions in the body, mental health, stress levels, or even the height of the shoes we wear. The wellbeing of the body plays a critical role in singing and it is easy to forget that it is part of the instrument.
Keeping a healthy body can have many implications. It can mean not only going on vocal rest but also physically getting enough sleep to recuperate. It means not only ensuring good mental health but also doing vocal warm downs after an intense period of singing. I encourage singers to refrain from deeming one aspect of your instrument more important than the others.
As an aspiring singer, there always seems to be so many aspects of the voice to work on. However, I have learnt the importance and skill of pacing myself and knowing the limits of my body. It is truly an important skill to have.
The importance of mental practice
I have always thought of athletes and musicians as very similar occupations. Both require a high level of skill and time dedicated to practice. It also requires performance of that skill and the performance anxiety that comes with it.
One thing that I found myself doing a lot during those three weeks was mental practice. Just as Olympians use mental imagery and visualization to rehearse for their performance, I did the same. Still being unable to phonate, I engaged my brain in mental visualization and practice. I went through phrase by phrase, imagining myself in detail of my upcoming performance in my dress, the audience, how I walked on the stage, deliver the pieces and successfully complete the performance.
Mental practice truly helped me in keeping my confidence up during that period of time. It also had a positive impact on my mental health and prepared a healthy mindset for when I was able to sing again. I will not know when the next cold or virus will attack, but when it comes I will be ready to practice!
It is about the journey
During that time I spent being overly focused on the destination, I was unhappy and was not enjoying myself during the process. I had forgotten why I do what I do and had lost passion for my instrument. Now, I realise that the journey of achieving that goal is far more important and valuable to a person’s character and attitude.
As I recall memories of my past performances or milestones, it is seldom the performance itself that comes to mind but rather the process of getting there: what I learnt, whom I worked with and the satisfaction of working towards a goal.
As you hit a dry patch during your journey, remember that there is no destination. We as artists are constantly evolving, creating new things and gaining new perspectives that will allow our learning journey to be a livelier, more positive one.